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justLOVE launches in Armagh diocese

“Thank you for a night where I experienced the presence of Jesus. Courageous in so many ways.” That was one person’s response to the justLOVE launch event.

Based in the parishes of Brackaville, Donaghendry and Ballyclog, justLOVE is a group of young people with a fresh perspective on the place of religious faith in their lives. They take their name from their parish mission statement – “Growing God’s love together in and through Jesus Christ” – and they put it into action with compassion and imagination.

On Monday 3 December, they invited “everyone who cares” to hear how families and friends can support LGBTQ+ children and young people and how churches can become welcoming and inclusive. Among those who showed they cared by joining in and listening were the Archbishop of Armagh, the diocesan youth officer, Church of Ireland and Methodist clergy, people of various denominations and non–church goers; there has been a longstanding commitment among the bishops of the Anglican Communion to listen to the experience of people who are same–gender attracted. It was an unforgettable outreach event: adventurous pioneer ministry energised by young people.

justLOVE members explained why this issue matters to them and introduced two speakers from the charity Cara–Friend. Jo MacParland had practical tips and information on how to respond when a child or young person has questions around gender or sexual orientation, what to say and do, what not to say or do, and how to demonstrate understanding, acceptance and love. Jo emphasised we don’t choose to be gay or straight. She revealed that LGBTQ+ people are three times more likely to self–harm and complete suicide than others.

Declan Meehan spoke about how churches and communities can show acceptance and respect for LGBTQ+ people. He mentioned that this is especially important for young people because, outside Belfast, nearly all youth groups are church based and LGBTQ+ people feel excluded and isolated if leaders and colleagues are unsupportive, ill–informed or simply silent on this issue.

The Rector, the Revd Andrew Rawding, chaired a panel discussion and the safe environment encouraged people in the audience to speak. Their contributions were challenging and humbling, moving many to tears. Some people told us they had never before felt welcome in a church for who they were, not in spite of who they were. The traumatic impact of homophobia in churches and wider society was exposed, especially the “hate the sin but love the sinner” cliché – LGBTQ+ people stressed that doesn’t make them feel loved.